New York – The risks involved in resuming the English Premier League were underscored Sunday after a Brighton player contracted the coronavirus as clubs prepare for fresh talks on how they can create safe conditions to play again during the pandemic.
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber said the club's COVID-19 case was "a concern," with players still only training individually at the club. It reinforces how players could potentially spread the coronavirus if the government approves the reintroduction of group training and lifts the shutdown of sports that has been in place since March.
The 20 Premier League clubs are due to hold a conference call on Monday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday night set out the steps for easing the national lockdown while maintaining social distancing.
Johnson made no mention of the return of professional sports in his speech, telling Britons they can "play sports but only with members of your own household.”
The government, however, said last week it wants to see the return of the Premier League to "lift the spirits of the nation" when it was safe.
Even though fans will not be allowed in stadiums, the league's "Project Restart" faces resistance from clubs who will not approve plans to use neutral venues. Watford claims to now be among at least six clubs insistent on being allowed to play at home — including Brighton — despite police saying that is not feasible.
Brighton has not named the player who was informed Saturday of his positive coronavirus test. There is no need for other members of the squad or coaches to self-isolate because players have only worked in isolation when at the training base, the south-coast club told The Associated Press.
Brighton said three players have now had the coronavirus, having announced the first diagnosis in March. Government social distancing regulations prevent players training together.
"One of the things we’ve asked the Premier League for is a complete plan of all of the stages of returning to play,” Barber told broadcaster Sky Sports on Sunday. "First we need to get players back training in small groups, then they need to get involved in some contact training and then training for a match before the match itself.
"So there are lots of stages, it’s very complex and there are people at the Premier League working very hard to produce detailed paperwork to move through those stages as safely as possible.”
Brighton is only two points clear of the relegation zone with nine games remaining and does not want to give away home advantage for five of those fixtures, which include visits to Amex Stadium by leader Liverpool and defending champion Manchester City.
"People will accuse us of self-interest, I totally understand that, but at this stage of the season there is self-interest at every level of the table,” Barber said.
"Everyone has different objectives for the season and we are all looking to play out the season, if it is safe to do so. We really do want to play and we want to make sure the competition stays as fair as it can be despite these exceptional circumstances that we are facing.”
Steve Parish, the chairman of midtable Crystal Palace, has been a rare public voice from within the Premier League supporting plans that envisage a June restart.
"There are no easy answers, we have to work through it as a collective and I think we will and come out with a consensus in the end,” Parish told the BBC. "(The meeting) is another part of the journey in trying to get football back. We would be derelict in our duty if we did not find a way for the game to come back.
"It may prove beyond us, we have huge challenges in order to get it back to complete the season but we are planning on doing so.”
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